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Garlic Up the Nose Won’t Help Your Decongestion. Here’s What Will

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Thanks to the rise of TikTok, a social media app, there has also been a rise in risky medical advice from internet “doctors.” The latest trend of sticking garlic cloves up your nose in order to cure sinus issues might be one remedy to stay away from. Comprehensive ENT Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, weighed in on alternatives to help with your sinus problems.

People on the viral trend app TikTok are claiming that placing full garlic cloves in each of your nostrils is supposed to alleviate sinus pressure and congestion by sending a rush of mucus out of your nose. Dr. Neil Bhattacharyya however explained to Focus that effect might just be a result of nasal irritation. “When something as concentrated as a garlic clove is placed in the nose for long enough it will lead to contact irritation and the nose will begin to react,” he said. The reaction will be a buildup of mucus which will be seen rushing from the nose once the garlic is removed. “This can become dangerous because of the irritation, swelling and inflammation it can cause, making a minor problem much worse,” said Dr. Bhattacharyya.

So what are some natural alternatives to aid in sinus relief? Dr. Bhattacharyya broke down what you can do at home, that doesn’t involve garlic, to try and help ease some of your discomforts.

Natural remedies for stuffy sinuses

  1. Manuka honey – Being the most natural form of honey, Manuka honey can offer some symptomatic help for a stuffy nose. “I recommend patients rub a thin film of Manuka honey under their nose morning and night as congestion relief,” said Dr. Bhattacharyya. It can be used as an anti-inflammatory and will temporarily provide relief.
  2. Exercise – Exercise can provide a great long-term benefit to your health but Dr. Bhattacharyya also notes how it can provide temporary relief for congestion by opening up your sinuses and allowing air to pass through.
  3. Menthol – If you’re looking for symptomatic relief, menthol can also be helpful. A menthol rub like Vicks can be used to relieve pressure and congestion and can be very helpful if you need assistance sleeping through the congestion.
  4. Steam inhalation – Sitting in a hot shower and breathing in the hot steam can also break up some of the mucus and congestion that might be plaguing your sinuses.

Over-the-counter medications that can help

Although at-home natural remedies might temporarily ease discomfort, there are always over-the-counter options to help as well depending on the severity and type of your congestion.

  1. Acute or intense nasal congestion – The best way to clear up this kind of congestion is with the use of over-the-counter decongestants and limited use of topical medications like Afrin.
  2. Seasonal congestion – The use of a neti pot or sinus rinse kit, oral decongestants, over-the-counter antihistamines such as Claritin or nasal sprays all on a regular basis can provide relief for this type of congestion.
  3. Congested or blocked up all the time – You can use all of the same treatments from above but if they don’t work or additional symptoms continue, you should be sure to see an ENT to be examined for bigger issues which might require surgery.

“It all depends on how severe the sinus problems are that a person is having, but I always recommend people start here and seek the advice of a specialist for any chronic or ongoing issues,” noted Dr. Bhattacharyya.

So before you take to TikTok to try the next best medical treatment, be sure to consult your doctor and look for safer remedies that could be more effective.

Read more of Dr. Bhattacharyya’s comments in SHAPE and Consumer Reports.

About our expert

Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, FACS, is a Harvard Medical School Professor of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, who specializes in Comprehensive ENT at Mass Eye and Ear and sees patients at our Boston Longwood location

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